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WAKE FOREST — The seven people looking to fill one of three seats on the Wake Forest Board of Commissioners met with citizens Tuesday to discuss issues.
The candidate forum, hosted by the Wake Forest Area Chamber of Commerce, also included a lightly moderated question-and-answer period.
Each candidate was asked to identify the top issues in Wake Forest and describe what approach they think the board should take to address those issues. Most of the contenders identified traffic and growth as key challenges for the town.
Early voting in the November local election began last week and will continue until next Friday. Election Day is Nov. 5, and in Wake Forest, citizens can vote for three candidates on their ballots. The top three vote-getters will win seats on the board.
The forum will be rebroadcast daily until Election Day at noon and 6 p.m. on WFTV 10.
Here are some takeaways from each candidate’s presentation at the forum.
“I was born in Wake Forest, raised in Wake Forest and Randy Bright is probably going to bury me somewhere in Wake Forest,” Bartholomew, a retired U.S. Postal Service employee, quipped at the start of his introduction.
He is the uncle of Ian Lewis, a Wake Forest High School student who drowned earlier this year at the beach. He cited Lewis’ death as something that inspired him to run.
Bartholomew said citizens are lucky to live in Wake Forest. But he said the town’s success — and the growth it has generated — is the source of traffic problems and a lack of a business base.
He argued that in order to get “a better road system” in Wake Forest, the board and citizens need to put pressure on state officials, including the legislature and N.C. Department of Transportation.
“Bad roads in town effect everything,” Bartholomew said. “Your quality of life, your economic development, your schools. Everything that we do revolves around traffic. ... Do we beat it? Do we get stuck in it?”
He also advocated for attracting more tourists, who are already coming to Wake County, to Wake Forest.
Dyer said he grew up in public housing, lived in a Baptist orphanage until he was 16 and later joined the U.S. Army. He spent 22 years in the Army, was a helicopter pilot and is now a professional Santa Claus. He holds leadership positions with the Wake Forest post of the Veterans of Foreign Wars and also works as a chaplain.
As a commissioner, Dyer said he would be quick to learn the issues and would prioritize listening to citizen questions and concerns.
“This election is not about me,” Dyer said. “It’s about you.”
He praised Chad Sary for his ability to articulate the issues. Dyer did not address any specific issues in his public comments.
“It’s critical that we listen to you,” Dyer said. “We don’t know the issues. You do, at the grassroots level. My job is to listen to you, make decisions that will not detract from my core values and will not detract from our lifestyle. I don’t have an agenda as a town commissioner other than to listen to you and do the job well.”
Holding’s family moved to Wake Forest when she was 16. She hated the town then, she admitted.
After graduating college and moving back, Holding wanted to get involved with the community and meet people, she said. A real estate broker with eXp Realty, Holding is also a partner in LI Leadership for Youth and has been involved with numerous boards, community groups and nonprofits.
“I fell in love with community service,” Holding said. “I have worked for the last 25 years in community service.”
She identified traffic, growth and infrastructure as top issues in the town. She said the town is “hamstrung by the DOT” and the only solution to uncontrolled growth is to carefully scrutinize each development and project proposal on a case-by-case basis. She said she will “make a decision based on all the information you have at the time.”
She focused most of her time Tuesday on other issues, including public housing, homelessness and community engagement.
“The average house prince is $350,000 in Wake Forest,” Holding said. “Where do our policemen and firefighters get to live? Where do small business employees live? They have to drive.”
Holding said she is also an advocate for bolstering partnerships with community organizations.
The only incumbent running for re-election, Reeve touted past successes, including a AAA credit rating, a small debt ratio, economic development and 50 miles of greenways.
“This tells you that you are in good hands,” Reeve said. “The seated board, the mayor, we all work very hard to make sure that Wake Forest continues to be the best place to live.”
To those who complain about the rapid growth of the town, Reeve argued growth is essential to being able to provide services like police and fire. Towns that lag behind in growth risk unincorporating and losing services when citizens move out, she said.
Reeve was blunt about the town’s traffic woes, explaining that the town needs help from NCDOT to make large transportation improvements.
“As far as I know there’s no cure for (traffic),” Reeve said. “If you go anywhere in the world, then you’ve got traffic.”
Despite that, Reeve argued that Wake Forest will continue to grow and attract new business, including services like doctor offices that make living in Wake Forest easier.
Sary worked for the town’s planning department for almost 15 years and now works as a consultant for other towns, he said. He formerly served on the town’s planning board and has volunteered with Hoops for Wake Forest, North Raleigh Athletic Association and other committees and organizations.
“Whether it was planting trees at arbor day, speaking to a civic club, coaching youth sports or volunteering at my church, it’s always been important to me to be a part of my community.”
One of Sary’s priorities will be to diversify the town’s business environment, creating new jobs, he said. That requires education, infrastructure and business incentives, he said.
“Too many of our citizens have to drive to Raleigh, Durham or the Research Triangle Park to their job every day,” Sary said. “Our residents have a lot of consumer choices over where to eat, where to shop and for entertainment; however, we still need to focus our efforts on job creation and have a healthy, balanced economy.”
Growth should be controlled by regularly updating long-range planning documents, Sary said. Doing so will protect natural and cultural resources while managing transportation, he said.
Sary also spoke about outreach efforts “so that our citizens have a better understanding of their town’s government.”
A payroll manager at the Raleigh-Durham Airport Authority, Sullivan said he moved to Wake Forest when his oldest child started kindergarten because he was attracted to the schools.
He is familiar with the need for more jobs in Wake Forest, having to commute an hour each way to work, he said. The drive used to take him 20 minutes.
All the roads are getting crowded, Sullivan said, which might discourage people from visiting downtown businesses. Existing roads need to be widened and repaved, he argued — while being mindful of easement issues, public safety and environment concern. That takes time, and he also acknowledged the town is waiting on state resources to make those improvements.
“It’s on the DOT schedule, so hopefully — maybe some slow growth until the roads are ready,” Sullivan said.
Sullivan briefly discussed the possibility of building up, instead of out, as land in Wake Forest is taken up. That would require new zoning regulations, he said.
In his closing comments, Sullivan advocated for keeping taxes low. Raising taxes could worsen homelessness and affordable housing, he said.
“If you’re looking for a candidate that is going to address our growth needs ... and stop being a rubber stamp for developers in our community, then I’m your guy,” Wright told the crowd.
Wright emphasized in his comments that he will be willing to say “no” to proposed subdivisions or apartment complexes. He accused the current board of approving too much of.
The owner of a small business that makes barbecue sauce, Wright said he is concerned with the direction the town is going in.
Wright advocated for smart, incremental growth and “not putting 1,400 apartments in a third of a square mile in our most congregated and congested area of our town.”
Regarding waiting on state funding for road projects, Wright said the town should work to find transportation solutions that can be implemented now.
Wright also supported a small business incubator to attract diverse businesses and efforts to grow cultural resources to improve quality of life, such as a performing arts theater.